My first EAHIL, by Matthew Henry

By Mala Mann | Published: 2023-09-15

Matthew Henry, Outreach Librarian, Bodleian Health Care Libraries, University of Oxford, Oxford, England, United Kingdom. 

In this, my first year as a professional librarian, I was lucky enough to be funded by my employer – the Bodleian Health Care Libraries at the University of Oxford, UK – to attend EAHIL 2023 in warm and sunny (yes, it was!) Trondheim, Norway.

EAHIL is held every year in a different city and with a different theme, which this year was ‘Radical Positive Change Agents’. I can definitely say that the whole experience was overwhelmingly positive, and I recommend any librarian or information specialist working in health care to go in future years if they can.

I attended the ‘academic’ part of the conference, which ran from Wednesday 13 June to lunchtime on Friday 16 June. This section was preceded by two days of continuing education courses (CEC), provided at extra cost to interested attendees.

Travelling all day on Tuesday, after checking in to my hotel I walked across town to attend the ‘Reception for first-timers’ at NTNU’s (the host university – the largest in Norway) Trondheim Academy of Fine Art. Here I met several members of EAHIL’s Executive Board and spoke to other ‘first-timers’, including ones from Finland and the USA. I was told that this year had a particularly large intake of around 100 first-time attendees, most of which were present. This event gave me a good impression of what to expect when the conference started in earnest at 8.30 the following morning.

The following two and a half days were fully occupied with keynotes, oral presentations, workshops, teachmeets and social coffee breaks, lunches and evening events. I made friends and professional contacts with librarians from Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, USA, Scotland, Wales and England. I also helped two colleagues from the University of Exeter run one of the workshops (on the subject of translating search strategies between databases).

I was particularly struck by R. David Lankes’ keynote on the opening day, in which he spoke on video about the current state of threat to libraries, librarians, and free access to books in the US, particularly in his home state of Texas. He warned us all not to be complacent, as what was happening there could happen anywhere. Later in the week Wichor Bramer ran an excellent workshop about the different choices we all make when searching, even though we all think we are working according to rules/best practice/guidelines. How should we build a search strategy from a research question and how much does it matter that different people will do it differently? And one of the oral presentations that I will be sharing with my team was by Eva Hessman and Helen Sjöblom of Gothenburg University. Their presentation reported on the results of a long-running programme to encourage researchers to increase their use of their three libraries, as it had been noticed that interactions with the libraries for people beyond undergraduate stage decreased. The solution was the creation of regular ‘20 mins for researchers’ drop-in sessions, which focused on a different topic/set of topics each week.

The first full day of the academic conference was followed by an organ recital at Nidardos Cathedral (the most northerly Gothic cathedral in the world and the only one in Norway). We then decamped to the nearby Archbishop’s Palace (a 12th century building) for canapes, drinks, chat, and a presentation from a British ex-pat stonemason who had worked on restoring a section of the cathedral and then built a stone house for himself in Norway (a country of wooden houses!). The evening event on Thursday was the formal conference dinner, which was held at one of the larger hotels in Trondheim, at which many delegates were also staying. (A local attendee told me that the hotel had repeatedly won awards for offering the best breakfast in Norway.) The evening was capped-off with a short performance from a local academic-themed musical combo, The Peer Reviews, which went down very well (look them up on YouTube).

The conference was brought to a close by Norway’s national librarian, Aslak Sira Myhre, who was evangelical on the importance of digitisation – the collections of the National Library of Norway are the most digitised in the world. They are currently about two-thirds of the way through the digitisation process, having started in the early 2000s.

I found the whole experience at EAHIL very valuable. Perhaps the key benefit was that it demonstrated to me that I was operating at a similar level to my colleagues across the world, despite the fact that I have only been in a professional-grade library role for just over a year. I believe that the contacts I have made could prove useful for future research collaborations and hope to build on these relationships as I develop my career.

The conference was very well organised by the local committee. Several of the Executive Board members I spoke to encouraged me to ask my employer to consider hosting a future event. I was left in no doubt that this would be a very considerable undertaking! The standard is very high but the atmosphere is friendly, supportive and informal. Preparations for EAHIL 2024 in Riga, Latvia, are well underway. I won’t be there, unfortunately, but one of my lucky colleagues will.